Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

West Country rivalry set to rekindle in FA Cup

Posted on 15 October 2021 by Nat Hayward

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In sleepy Somerset this Saturday, a unique rivalry will play out in front of fans for the first time in 22 years. Yeovil Town and Weymouth meet in the Fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup in the A37 derby or, as I am dubbing it – ‘The Cider Derby’.

This is not your usual local derby. Yeovil’s Huish Park sits 28 miles inland from coastal Weymouth’s Bob Lucas Stadium. It would take you around 45 minutes to drive between the grounds, in which time you would have crossed from Dorset to Somerset, as well as witnessing some of the idyllic countryside that the rural West Country has to offer.

The animosity between the teams comes from the lack of other sides of a similar level in that part of the country rather than being on each other’s doorstep.

Weymouth fan and statistician Duncan Gardner had this to say on the origins of the tensions:

“The rivalry has always been there, right back to the early days of both football clubs in the 1890’s and that is no surprise with two towns of similar size not far from each other with county bragging rights at stake.”

“Even back in 1893 there was needle between the sides with the former “Yeovil FC” side. On 23rd December an away friendly was abandoned when the referee adjudged a Yeovil shot to have entered the goal (in a time before nets were used) even though the away side thought the shot had gone wide. The Weymouth players left the field in protest and refused to restart!”

“The A37 derby is written in the DNA of our football clubs, the songs are the first you learn on the terraces as a kid.”

Between the 1950s and 1980s the clubs met regularly in non-league football and the intensity grew on the pitch and between both sets of fans as a result.

As Yeovil fan Ian Hammet recalls:

“[I] suppose my early memories were as a teenager going down to the Boxing Day game at Weymouth. Of course there was always a big Yeovil following and always trouble in the ground and in town.”

“A day out down the seaside, causing havoc was all part of it.”

The two teams did not meet after 1989 until they were drawn against each other in the 1999 FA Trophy, a game that was moved to the Sunday by police for safety reasons and finished 0-0.

Looking back on that game Hammett said, “To get Weymouth away was the buzz of the town. The away end was sold out … I remember the police helicopter hovering ahead before kick off. (It) had followed the Yeovil lads up from the town centre…Dorset police knew who they were and were keen for everyone to behave! Can’t remember too much of the game really, a flare ended up on the pitch.”

However, in the time between a 2-1 Yeovil victory in the replay and last season’s National League meetings behind closed doors, the teams have been as many as five divisions apart. Yeovil played Championship football in 2013-14 whilst Weymouth dropped as low as two divisions below the National League before returning two seasons ago.

With the lack of meetings and the clubs’ different trajectories the rivalry has cooled in recent years. The match on Saturday gives the teams, and their sets of fans, an opportunity to renew hostilities and distract from league campaigns that have started poorly for both.

Gardner believes that, “Both teams will surely be looking at this game to be a springboard for this season but only one will be flung in the right direction. For Weymouth it heralds a massive couple of weeks at the club, beat the old enemy in a competitive game for the first time since 1988 on their own patch and follow it up with wins against the teams around us at the bottom and we can look forward with confidence and kudos.”

Yeovil are currently struggling financially and there is discontent within the fan base towards the board. Ian Perkins, who runs the Gloverscast website and podcast, is torn in the lead up to the match:

“On one side it’s the first time in my adult life that Yeovil are playing Weymouth in a competitive fixture and the anticipation which comes along with that is palpable and new. On the other hand…I never had to give Weymouth a thought as a rival until last season, but here we are in the same league. The context of everything happening at Huish Park at the moment has added increased pressure on everyone to get a result, so fingers crossed we come through on top.”

Whilst it may not have the edge it did when these two sides were original non-league royalty, Saturday’s meeting in the FA Cup provides the perfect scenario to inject some much-needed life into each of their respective seasons. There are county bragging rights to be fought for in front of supporters for the first time in many years and an improvement on Huish Park’s dwindling recent attendances is expected. All this presumably washed down with a few pints of West Country’s’ finest!